Kim Mitchell is the senior water policy adviser at Western Resource Advocates and former hydrologist at the Arizona Department of Water Resources. Christopher Kuzdas is the Arizona water program manager for the Environmental Defense Fund. Both are members of the Water for Arizona Coalition.
Forty years ago on June 12, Arizona enacted the Groundwater Management Act (GMA), a first-of-its-kind policy aimed at ensuring our state’s groundwater could be sustained even as our economy and population continued to grow.
The act limited groundwater use, mandated conservation from all business sectors and established a system to manage groundwater in five key areas where groundwater overdraft was most severe: Prescott, Phoenix and Tucson, as well as Pinal and Santa Cruz counties.
The GMA was an innovative piece of forward-looking policy, and it didn’t come a moment too soon. Finite groundwater has long underpinned Arizona’s economy, representing about 40% of our annual water use. These supplies occur naturally in the cracks and spaces in soil, sand and rock. They can take decades or longer to replenish, meaning that pumping is occurring today at levels that may never be restored.
Groundwater remains the only source of water for some parts of the state, especially for some rural communities. Those communities are mostly located outside of the areas protected by the GMA, making it difficult for rural residents to know how much groundwater is left for the future.